AP Photo/Pat Eaton-Robb

Paralyzed ex-UConn hoops player now a curling Paralympian

Leave a comment

NORFOLK, Conn. (AP) — Steve Emt was rolling himself up a hill to a pie shop in Falmouth, Massachusetts, when the coach of a wheelchair curling team noticed the former UConn basketball player.

The shop’s name was Pie in the Sky. An interesting coincidence, Emt thought, when Tony Colacchio approached him and suggested that within a year he could turn Emt into a Paralympic athlete in a sport he’d never heard of.

It took a few years, but next month, Emt will compete in the Paralympic Games in South Korea as the vice skip of the United States curling team.

“The sport just bit me,” he said. “With everything that has happened to me in life, I’ve learned to stop asking why. Everything happens for a reason.”

He was a student at the U.S. Military Academy in when he lost his father, a man he says was his best friend, mentor and coach. His dad’s death, he said, led to falling grades at West Point and a decision to come home to Hebron, Connecticut, where he was a basketball and soccer star in high school.

Jim Calhoun said he learned from his players about this big, tough kid playing intramural games at UConn. Calhoun, who also had lost his father at a young age, gave the 6-foot-4, Emt him a chance to walk on to the Huskies. He played with the likes of Ray Allen, Donyell Marshall and current coach Kevin Ollie from 1992 to 1994.

“Coach Calhoun stepped right in as a father figure,” Emt said. “He became a person I could talk to, a person who demanded the most out of me, showed me what it was to never give up, to give 100 percent every day.”

Emt said he needed those values, instilled by his dad and drilled home by Calhoun to help him survive what came next.

A year removed from UConn, Emt lost his ability to walk when he decided to get into his truck after a night of watching basketball and drinking with friends at a bar in East Hartford. He drove off Interstate 84, flipped five times into a bridge abutment going about 80 mph. He broke most of his ribs and his back, severing his spinal cord.

What followed were surgeries and months of rehab, learning to open a door by himself, put clothes on, make toast.

“There were two days at the beginning I couldn’t get out of bed. I hit bottom. I was questioning a lot of things,” he said. “I was 25. I could have played professional basketball in Europe. I could have played professional soccer. All that was gone. I messed up. What now?”

Calhoun gave him some advice.

“I didn’t want people telling him how tough he had it,” Calhoun said. “I told him, no, you’re not going to play in the NBA, but you weren’t going to do that anyway. So, why not put those good things you do have, your mind, your toughness, into something positive.”

A while later a friend asked Emt to mentor a troubled teen. That gave him some direction. He wanted to work with kids; he wanted to be an example. Emt eventually went back to school, became a math teacher and for 20 years, a high school basketball coach.

He said he never had the desire to play wheelchair basketball. He has tried several other adaptive sports, even racing a hand cycle in the 2010 New York marathon.

But then in July 2012 he went on vacation to Cape Cod, and decided to get some pie.

About a week after their meeting at the pie shop, Colacchio convinced Emt to come watch an international tournament, called a bonspiel, which was being held on the cape. During that tournament, the coach called to say a Canadian team was missing a player and asked if Emt would be willing to drive from his home in Connecticut to fill in. He’d have to learn the game between midnight and 4 a.m., after the curling tournament had ended for the day.

No problem. The math teacher fell in love with the angles of the game, figuring out how hard to throw the stone down the ice and how much curl was needed to make a shot.

Colacchio said he was immediately impressed by Emt’s dedication. His star pupil now practices about 20 hours a week, either making the five-hour round-trip drive to Cape Cod or two hours to clubs in Norfolk, Connecticut or Bridgeport.

“The day they put that USA jacket on him, he cried,” Colacchio said, choking up himself. “I still get emotional thinking about it.”

Emt’s team leaves this week. They will spend some time in Japan practicing before the games. The curling begins March 10.

Calhoun said he’s convinced Emt can help bring home a medal.

“When things don’t always go your way, it takes more than the average person to overcome it,” Calhoun said. “Steve’s always done that. So, I think he can help his teammates, who have all been through similar things, realize, maybe when the times get tougher, ‘Hey, we can do this.’ You know how people ask, ‘Who would you want in your foxhole? I would like to have Steve Emt in my foxhole.”

Follow Pat Eaton-Robb on Twitter @peatonrobb

Louisville challenges NCAA over recruiting allegations

Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports
Leave a comment

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Louisville has refuted NCAA allegations against its men’s basketball program in the wake of a federal corruption scandal, requesting that the highest-level violation be reclassified.

The university also is challenging that former coach Rick Pitino failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance in his program.

Louisville filed a 104-page response last week to the Notice Of Allegations sent to the school in May. The document stated that college sports’ governing body seeks to ignore wire fraud convictions against several people involved in the scheme – including a former Adidas executive – by suggesting they were representing its athletic interests. Louisville’s contract with the apparel maker was a standard sponsorship agreement rather than a promotional deal, the response added.

“This argument is as novel as it is wrong,” the school wrote in its response. “Even if an institution has some responsibility for the conduct of its suppliers, that responsibility plainly does not extend to acts of fraud perpetrated against the institution itself.”

Louisville also seeks to have several second-tier violations reclassified even lower. The NCAA has until Nov. 15 to respond with the school responding 15 days after before a decision is made whether the case will proceed through the traditional Committee on Infractions or Independent Accountability Review Process (IARP).

The NCAA’s Notice of Allegations states that Louisville committed a Level I violation, considered the most severe, with an improper recruiting offer and extra benefits along with several lesser violations. Those lesser violations also include Pitino failing to promote an atmosphere of compliance.

The NCAA notice completed a two-year investigation following a federal corruption probe of college basketball announced in September 2017. Louisville acknowledged its involvement in the federal investigation related to the recruitment of former player Brian Bowen II. Pitino, who’s now coaching Iona, was not named in the federal complaint and has consistently denied authorizing or having knowledge of a payment to a recruit’s family.

Louisville has previously indicated it would accept responsibility for violations it committed but would contest allegations it believed were not supported by facts. The school also noted corrective measures taken in the scandal’s immediate aftermath, such as suspending and then firing Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich.

Louisville also dismissed the NCAA’s contention that former Adidas executive James Gatto and amateur league director Merl Code represented the school while funneling illegal payments to recruits at several schools.

“The enforcement staff’s remaining allegations lack factual support and overread the relevant Bylaws,” the response stated, “and rest on the erroneous contention that the conspirators were representatives of the University’s athletics interests.

“For these reasons and others set forth, the panel should reject the enforcement staff’s dramatically overbroad theory, and classify this case as involving a Level II-Mitigated violation.”

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
4 Comments

INDIANAPOLIS — With the coronavirus pandemic already forcing changes for college basketball, a bubble may be brewing in Indianapolis.

Indiana Sports Corp. released a 16-page proposal Friday that calls for turning the city convention center’s exhibition halls and meeting rooms into basketball courts and locker rooms. There would be expansive safety measures and daily COVID-19 testing.

The all-inclusive price starts at $90,000 per team and would cover 20 hotel rooms per traveling party, testing, daily food vouchers ranging from $30-$50 and the cost of game officials. Sports Corp. President Ryan Vaughn said the price depends on what offerings teams or leagues choose.

“The interest has been high,” Vaughn said. “I think as conferences figure out what conference and non-conference schedules are going to look like, we’re we’re a very good option for folks. I would tell you we’ve had conversations with the power six conferences, mid-majors, it’s really kind of all over the Division I spectrum.”

Small wonder: The NCAA this week announced teams could start ramping up workouts Monday, with preseason practices set to begin Oct. 14. Season openers, however, were pushed back to Nov. 25 amid wide-ranging uncertainty about campus safety and team travel in the pandemic.

There is already scrambling going on and some of the marquee early-season tournaments have already been impacted.

The Maui Invitational will be moved from Hawaii to Asheville, North Carolina, with dates still to be determined and organizers clear that everyone involved “will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.” The Batttle 4 Atlantis has been canceled. The Cancun Challenge will be held in Melbourne, Florida, not Mexico.

More changes almost certainly will be coming, including what to do with the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

“I think we’re past the guesswork on whether we play 20 conference games or more than that,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said Friday. “We’re trying to get everybody set like in terms of MTEs (multi-team events), figuring out when to play the ACC-Big Ten challenge.”

Painter, who was part of the NCAA committee that recommended how to start the season, noted part of the uncertainty stems from differing protocols imposed by campus, city and state officials.

In Indianapolis, Vaughn believes the convention center, nearby hotels, restaurants and downtown businesses, many within walking distance of the venue, could safely accommodate up to 24 teams. The 745,000-square foot facility would feature six basketball courts and two competition courts.

Anyone entering the convention center would undergo saliva-based rapid response testing, which would be sent to a third-party lab for results. Others venues could be added, too, potentially with more fans, if the case numbers decline.

If there is a taker, the event also could serve as a dry run for the 2021 Final Four, also slated for Indy.

“It’s not going to hurt,” Vaughn said. “I can tell you all the planning we’re doing right now is the same for a Final Four that’s been scheduled here for any other year. But it would be nice to have this experience under our belt to see if it can be done.”

Maui Invitational moving to North Carolina during pandemic

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
1 Comment

ASHEVILLE, N.C. — The Maui Invitational is moving to the mainland during the coronavirus pandemic.

One of the premier preseason tournaments on the college basketball schedule, the Maui Invitational will be played at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in downtown Asheville, North Carolina.

Dates for the tournament announced Friday have yet to be finalized. The NCAA announced Wednesday that the college basketball season will begin Nov. 25.

This year’s Maui Invitational field includes Alabama, Davidson, Indiana, North Carolina, Providence, Stanford, Texas and UNLV.

All teams, staff, officials, and personnel will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.

Burton eligible at Texas Tech after 2 seasons at Wichita State

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
7 Comments

LUBBOCK, Texas — Junior guard Jamarius Burton has been granted a waiver from the NCAA that makes him eligible to play this season for Texas Tech after starting 52 games the past two seasons for Wichita State.

Texas Tech coach Chris Beard announced the waiver Thursday, which came five months after Burton signed with the Big 12 team.

Burton has two seasons of eligibility remaining, as well as a redshirt season he could utilize. He averaged 10.3 points and 3.4 assists per game as a sophomore at Wichita State, where he played 67 games overall.

Burton is from Charlotte. He helped lead Independence High School to a 31-1 record and the North Carolina Class 4A state championship as a senior there.

NCAA season set to open day before Thanksgiving

Getty Images
4 Comments

The NCAA men’s and women’s basketball season will begin on Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving.

The Division I Council voted Wednesday to push the start date back from the originally scheduled Nov. 10 as one of several precautions against the spread of coronavirus.

The later start date coincides with the decision most schools made to send students home from Thanksgiving until January out of concern about a potential late-fall and early-winter flareup of COVID-19. Closed campuses could serve as a quasi bubble for players and provide a window for non-conference games.

The maximum number of regular-season games has been reduced from 31 to 27. The minimum number of games for consideration for the NCAA Tournament was cut from 25 to 13.

Teams can start preseason practices Oct. 14 but will be allowed to work out 12 hours per week beginning Monday.

No scrimmages against other teams or exhibitions are allowed.

In other action, the council voted to extend the recruiting dead period for all sports through Dec. 31. In-person recruiting is not allowed during a dead period, though phone calls and other correspondence are allowed.

The men’s and women’s basketball oversight committees had jointly recommended a start date of Nov. 21, which would have allowed for games to be played on the weekend before Thanksgiving. The council opted not to do that to avoid a conflict with regular-season football games.

The council is scheduled to meet again Oct. 13-14 and could delay the start date and change other pieces of the basketball framework if circumstances surrounding the virus warrant.